Strikes Press Conference
Senator Tom McClintock
Date: July 31, 2002
Publication Type: Press Release
In the fall of 2002 the United States Supreme Court will be hearing challenges to California’s “three strikes” law. The following remarks by Senator McClintock are in defense of the “three strikes” law.
The fundamental question at stake with this case is whether the people of California have the right to protect themselves from violent criminals.
The essence of the social contract – and the foundation of the American Republic – is the notion that every member of society is endowed with certain inalienable rights. In a state of nature, these rights are subject to violation by predators among us. Thus we establish government to protect those rights. In the words of the American Founders: “That to secure these rights governments are instituted.”
After many years of rising crime rates, California’s government finally took the necessary steps to secure these rights. It adopted the so-called “three strikes law.” Perhaps the problem is in the name. It is actually a two strikes law. After two serious or violent felonies – in which you have murdered, assaulted, robbed or burglarized your fellow citizens -- you are on notice that any further misconduct will remove you from a society that you have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to live in peaceably.
There are some on the Left who believe this is unreasonable. It is important to note that they have been wrong in every argument they have advanced.
They argued that Three Strikes would have no effect on crime. In fact, California has enjoyed a dramatic reduction in violent crime literally contingent upon the enactment of this legislation relative both to the pre-enactment period as well as the national rate.
They argued that Three Strikes would overwhelm California’s prisons with a flood of new prisoners. In fact, California’s prison population leveled off with the enactment of this legislation.
In short, their ideology has been trumped by reality. Californians are safer, their prisons are not overwhelmed, and there is a wealth of anecdotal evidence that after two strikes, many criminals leave the state for purely professional reasons.
Their sole argument now is that because the third strike need not be a violent crime, a petty criminal could receive life in prison for minor offenses. The only way to make this argument is to ignore the long string of violent crimes that have brought the criminal to this point; and to ignore the continuing discretion that prosecutors, judges and juries exercise in applying this law -- in other words, the only way to make this argument is to ignore reality.
But the reality is this: Californians have a fundamental right to defend themselves from violent predators; they have a fundamental right to draw a line after two serious and violent felonies. They have exercised that right, and the result is a society in which the inalienable right of all the people to their lives, their liberty and their pursuit of happiness is measurably safer and more secure.
I thank the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation for their work in defense of this law, I thank those who make their work possible, and I am honored to join them in this amicus curiae brief.